A proposed ban by Afghanistan authorities on teenage schoolgirls singing is being urgently investigated by the British government, it was confirmed on Friday.
Fears over the Taliban being able to influence restrictions on female rights grew after the Afghan education ministry ordered that girls aged over 12 were to be prevented from singing in public.
The edict, which stated that teenage female choirs could sing only in front of women audiences, is seen as part of a continued hardline threat to the Kabul government.
It came as the US intensifies talks with the Taliban to try to bring an end to two decades of conflict by allowing them into government in return for troop withdrawals.
The ban is concerning because the Taliban refused to allow girls access to education during their brutal rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 in which women were severely oppressed.
The British Foreign Office, which spent millions on Afghan education, called for the education department to explain the edict.
"We are urgently seeking clarification from the Afghan Ministry of Education on these reports, and any potential implications for UK-funded education work," a representative said. "We are very proud of our work in helping more than 300,000 Afghan girls attend school over the last six years."
The new order, which also banned male choir teachers from instructing girls, came from a leaked letter written by Kabul's director of education. "All public, private and supplementary schools to ban schoolgirls who are 12 and older from performing in music choirs in any ceremony and public programmes," wrote Ahmad Zamir Kawara. "In case schools do not follow the order, the school principals will be punished,"
After an outcry over the edict, the education ministry said the proposal was to give schoolgirls more time to catch up on work missed during the pandemic.
While the Taliban say they will protect women’s rights if they enter government, reports suggest that in areas of Afghanistan where they have power, female projects were ended.
Despite the controversy, the education ministry later stated it wanted to ban musical choirs for boys and girls.
“In this new academic year, the education ministry is working on a guideline that will ban all boys and girls – elementary and high school students – from performing in ceremonials and public programmes so that they will be focused on their studies,” a ministry spokeswoman said.